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Essex County, NJ

In this assault action, the plaintiff’s estate contended that after the 43-year old decedent went to the defendant hospital’s emergency room with a cut lip after having been bit during a domestic dispute, some five hospital security guards restrained him in a "dog pile; in which he was held down while one of the guards on top of him had his arm around the decedent’s neck. The plaintiff’s estate maintained that the combination of a chokehold and compressional asphyxiation resulted in the death.

The evidence disclosed that the decedent – who had admitted consuming some alcohol – had become embroiled in a dispute with his girlfriend, and upon leaning in to kiss her when he believed it had resolved, the girlfriend bit him on the lip – causing a laceration which required stitches. The decedent was transported by EMS to the emergency room. At the time, the hospital’s policy or "patient safety assignment" (PSA) provided that in order to deter such individuals from leaving the ER against medical advice, inebriated patients – or others deemed to present a potential danger to themselves or others – would be asked to remove their clothing, put on a hospital gown, and give their clothes to the guards.

The plaintiff’s estate maintained that, although the decedent changed to a hospital gown as instructed, he refused to give his clothes to a guard. The defendant contended that the inebriated decedent instigated the incident. The plaintiff’s estate contended that the decedent simply wanted to get stitches to treat his lip laceration and leave the hospital, and that, although he fell asleep, the guards made several attempts to awaken him in order to effectuate the "patient safety assignment." The plaintiff’s estate supported that it should have been obvious that since the decedent was sleeping, there was no pressing need to wake him in order to enforce compliance with the policy that is designed to discourage potentially emotionally unstable patients from leaving the ER.

The plaintiff’s estate also argued that the jury should consider that the defendant guards should have been adequately trained to be able to care for individuals who are emotionally distraught and/or inebriated. The plaintiff’s estate further argued that since the decedent was in a secured area of the newly renovated ER, there was no need for the PSA.

The plaintiff’s estate contended that some five security guards brought the decedent down in a situation that resembled a "dog pile," and maintained that one of the guards, who was at the top, placed his arm around the decedent’s neck. The plaintiff’s estate contended that this chokehold cut off the supply of blood to the brain, and that another cause of the death was compressional asphyxiation from being at the bottom of the five guards, and that the pain and suffering from the terror of not be able to breathe was clearly horrific.

The evidence disclosed that the incident was not captured on the hospital video system because of curtains that were situated at the front of the emergency room that obstructed the view of the cameras. The plaintiff’s estate presented a number of ER patients who either saw the episode unfold, or heard the scuffle.

The defendant maintained that the decedent had a pre-existing enlarged heart which rendered him unusually vulnerable. The plaintiff’s estate contended that he had never had symptoms reflecting this condition, which was never previously diagnosed.

The plaintiff’s estate also stressed that the defendant was liable for the superimposition of the trauma on any pre-existing condition. The plaintiff’s estate contended that the pain and suffering and terror of impending doom was severe, as the decedent could not breathe as the guards were piled on top of him.The case settled prior to trial for $________.

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